By Eric Moffett, Pastor First Baptist Sparkman, Arkansas
I am 26 years old, and somehow was elected second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) this past June at the Annual Meeting in Orlando. My first task as newly elected second vice president was to frantically call the SBC Executive Committee office in Nashville and ask a kind receptionist to please transfer me to somebody who could explain exactly what I am supposed to do.
As I look toward the future of our convention, I am both excited and nervous. I am excited to see the work of God’s Kingdom in so many unbelievable ways through our mission boards, relief programs and global partnerships. It brings me distinct joy to know that our Cooperative Program (CP) giving goes to support the work of these types of things. Yet, I am concerned because of what I’ve seen in my short years of ministry. Those concerns weigh heavy on my heart.
First, I am concerned about the number of young pastors and ministers who are leaving the SBC to join other denominations, mission organizations and non-denominational churches. I have zero statistics to quote you – I’ll leave that to Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research.
What I have seen and experienced first-hand is a number of friends, who were devoted Southern Baptists training for ministry, choose to partner with other groups. Many do not understand their motivation for leaving is based upon a renewed devotion and adherence to Scripture. My friends who have left the SBC have done so because they love God’s Word and feel they are not able to completely follow Christ within SBC parameters. Though I disagree with their final assessment, I can see their concern.
We are not seeing a departure of young pastors who are caught in biblical heresy. Instead, we are seeing a departure of young pastors who are biblically literate. I understand that part of this happens out of personal frustrations young pastors have that are based on little fact. I also understand, though, the feeling of exclusion and distrust young ministers experience.
We have to be intentional when it comes to investing in those called to serve in ministry. We must make sure that our attitude towards this generation is not one of constant negativity and distrust, but one of encouragement and challenge. The Spirit is moving in the hearts of countless young people who are being called into ministry. They will go where they can serve.
Second, I am concerned about the vast biblical illiteracy I see, hear and experience throughout our convention. Could it be we have become so enamored with preaching about the Bible that we have neglected to actually preach the Bible?
I have become convinced, just in the four years I have served as a pastor, that healthy, Spirit-led churches rest upon biblical preaching. Apart from biblical exposition, a church may grow, but its growth will be based on something that cannot last.
Too many of our sermons have become little more than self-help motivation or political grandstanding. Too many of our sermons start with application rather than beginning with the text.
If we preach proof-text sermons that use Scripture to do little more than back up what we want to say, then we are communicating to our people that Scripture only serves us. The assumption that since we believe the Bible everything we preach will be biblical must cease. We must have a revival of biblical preaching. That will bring about a revival of biblical literacy.
Third, I am concerned about the presence of politics in the pulpits of our convention. Please don’t misunderstand me: We must stand up for, and against, certain things in our society. Yet, this does not give us a license to allow our churches to become political arenas for our pet projects or candidates.
We cannot legislate morality. We cannot legislate faith. We cannot elect a perfect person. Only Christ can accomplish change, revival and restoration. When we throw our weight behind any candidate or party, we run the risk of contaminating the church with corruption.
Look around your communities and see the vast lostness of America. Look around the world and see the vast darkness of sin. Political parties and candidates cannot build God’s Kingdom. Let us invest in God’s Kingdom, because only Christ can bring hope.
Fourth, I am concerned about the small churches of our convention. As a pastor of a small, rural church in Arkansas, I am daily faced with the struggles and joys of this field. We cannot overlook the vast network of gospel churches we have in our convention.
I believe we have failed in the support of these small congregations. Jesus never seemed to work in terms of small or large. Jesus saw what many pastors see: that people are changed one at a time.
We must begin facing the questions of how to network and support the work of the gospel among the thousands of small churches in our convention. They must not be overlooked, but must be challenged to do the work of God’s Kingdom.
Fifth, I am concerned about Cooperative Program support. Over the last few months, CP giving has been dissected and debated. I left Orlando with the sense that CP support is being promoted and insulted at the same time.
CP giving is not perfect. Our state conventions are not perfect. The CP is not Jesus. CP giving should not be a litmus test for Christ-likeness. Yet, the CP is a tool we have been blessed with to support Kingdom work among Southern Baptists.
We are quick to call out ‘bloated bureaucracy,’ but we seem to forget that many of us rely on ‘bureaucracy’ to get stuff done. There are places we can trim down I am sure, but the problem of missionary support comes down to our churches being unwilling to give sacrificially to the CP and the mission offerings.
The CP was never meant to fund all ministries in totality. We must decide if the CP is worth our support. If it is, we must take that commitment seriously.
God has blessed us in some tremendous ways as Southern Baptists. The challenge before us is the challenge Jesus gave us in the parable of the talents. Will we bury and sit on the gifts God has given or will we go and invest in Kingdom work together?